A research team at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) led by Dr. Howard Lipshitz has discovered that a protein previously linked to mammalian embryo implantation, as well as tumour metastasis, plays similar roles in fruit fly development. This research is reported in the featured article in the March 9, 2004 issue of the scientific journal Current Biology.
"We were surprised to find such high evolutionary conservation of the structure, expression and function of these proteins - called integrin and basigin - between flies and mammals, whose ancestors diverged over 500 million years ago," said Dr. Lipshitz, a senior scientist and head of the Developmental Biology Research Program at Sick Kids and a professor of Medical Genetics and Microbiology at the University of Toronto. "In mammals, if you mutate the basigin protein, the embryo cant implant, probably because the extraembryonic membrane cannot maintain close contact with the wall of the uterus. In flies, if you mutate the proteins, two different extraembryonic membranes fail to maintain contacts and the result is death of the embryo."
While fruit flies develop quite differently from humans, there is remarkable conservation of fundamental processes and the genes that control them. For example, two thirds of all known human disease genes are also present in fruit flies. "This cheap and tractable genetic system serves as a living test tube in which to figure out the fundamental molecular basis of human development and disease," added Dr. Lipshitz, also the Canada Research Chair in Developmental Biology.
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